After Livermore residents Kristin Allen and Michael Rodrigues won gold in the Acrobat Gymnastics World Championships last summer, they didn't head to Disneyland. Instead, the pair went to Las Vegas.
In September, Allen and Rodrigues joined the cast of Cirque du Soleil's Viva ELVIS, which is staged five nights a week at the Aria Resort and Casino. The duo performs an acrobatic dance routine to "Suspicious Minds" that incorporates the same dazzling, gravity-defying stunts that led them to win two consecutive world titles.
"It's really the perfect transition to the next stage in our lives," says Allen. "We're getting paid to do what we love."
The pair had already decided to retire from competitive acrobatic gymnastics before the 2010 World Championships. "I wanted to take a gap year before starting college," says Allen, who graduated from Vineyard High School in July. "We were looking into where acro could take us-maybe coaching, traveling, or joining the cast of a show."
Cirque du Soleil contacted Allen and Rodrigues soon after they returned from the World Championships in Poland, so the pair never had to retrain. Their lives now revolve around the ten weekly shows of Viva ELVIS, public relations events, and extra rehearsals when parts of the show are changed.
Viva ELVIS, a harmonious fusion of dance, acrobatics and live music, is a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley. The show blends significant moments in his life with timeless hits like "Suspicious Minds," "All Shook Up," "Jailhouse Rock," and of course, "Viva Las Vegas."
On Tuesday through Saturday nights, they arrive at the theater around 5:30 pm to warm up and get into their costumes and makeup. On show nights, Viva ELVIS is staged at 7 and 9:30 pm so they perform their act twice with about an hour break in between.
"This has been a wonderful experience," says Allen. "It is amazing to be surrounded by so many talented people, like singers who were on American Idol and Olympic gymnasts. We are able to continue experiencing the joy of performing without the pressure to win. While the show stays mostly the same, every audience brings a different energy to the performance."
Between performances and enjoying some of her newly found free time, Allen works on her college applications. Her dream school is Stanford. However, she's also applying to Georgetown University and Hamilton College in upstate New York. She plans to study humanities, emphasizing writing and philosophy, and attend graduate school in business. She's also staying active in the world of acrobatic gymnastics, choreographing routines for gymnasts around the country.
"My experience in acrobatic gymnastics has been absolutely incredible. Michael and I achieved every goal that we set for ourselves," she says. "We owe much of our success to the West Coast Training Center. I got lucky, living in the city with the best training center in the world." Allen and Rodrigues trained with Marie Annonson, head coach and owner of West Coast Training Center.
Allen also credits the independent study program at Vineyard High School with helping her balance school and her demanding training and competition schedule. "Everyone at Vineyard was so supportive of my endeavors," she says. "I'm grateful to the mentors and talented peers that surrounded me. I do miss Livermore."
To learn more about Viva ELVIS, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/viva-elvis. Look for Allen and Rodrigues about 20 seconds into the preview video on the website-she's wearing a red dress and leaps from the staircase into his arms. You can also see a video of the pair performing at a public relations event on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj_Nsge23Nw (or search YouTube for "Kristin Allen Viva Elvis").